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Employers need to understand proper use of social media

December 21, 2011

While social media is a marketing tool, a communication tool, and an excellent networking tool, it has also raised human resources issues.

Cindy Hartin, ASU-SBDC Assistant Director

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Social media has impacted all areas of small business.

While social media is a marketing tool, a communication tool, and an excellent networking tool, it has also raised human resources issues. Recent legal developments have raised concerns around employers’ social media policies on how employees can access and use Facebook and other social media. In August 2011, the Office of General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a report discussing fourteen cases of employees disciplined, threatened to be sued, or terminated, for using social media tools.

Social media such as Facebook has changed the way employees and individuals share information. Therefore, employees have claimed that their social media activities were “protected concerted activity” despite any employer policy regarding social media use. For example, one of the cases dealt with a car salesman who was terminated for posting pictures of a promotional event hosted by his employer. The dealer claimed the employee defamed the dealership and their reputation when the employee claimed he and other salespeople were concerned about their commissions because of the poor event. The salesperson was protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because he and others were concerned about their pay as a result of the poor promotional event hosted by the employer.

The Office of General Counsel report explained that not all employee complaints are covered under the NLRA. Simple complaints about the employer or work conditions posted by one employee and shared with people outside of the organization may not be protected. Therefore, not all comments made by employees on their Facebook page about their employer or their employer’s products and services are automatically protected.

As an employer, it is important to have policies defining use of social media in the workplace. It is important to understand not all comments, photos or posts made by an employee are grounds for termination. Employers need to be cautious when making employment decisions.

Training employees on social media use in the workplace also is important. While the cases outlined in the Office of General Counsel report are helpful in better understanding how regulations apply to social media use and the impact on employment decisions, the report also makes clear that this is a complex and developing area.

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